Trigger Warning: This piece makes references coming out, mental illness, and self-harm. Please be cautious while reading further if any of the aforementioned topics are triggering to you.
Salaam to all of you beautiful kings and queens and everything in-between! My name is Usman Khalid, but you can call me Uzzy if you want. I’m a 29-year-old, super-gay, Pakistani-American Muslim, currently living in Washington, D.C.
First of all, I want to thank everyone for the support they have given me during this time. It has been more meaningful than you know to have your struggle recognized. And to receive the support of so many people who have known me since I was a child and have had the same upbringing as I have has been immensely humbling.
Sharing my story was not an easy task, nor was it an easy task to relive what I went through and how I felt, but I think I need to mention that it’s not easy for my family either. I would be doing a great disservice to them if I did not recognize that they are also processing things the same way. Having a gay child come out in public can feel almost like a death to parents like mine. It’s difficult for me to explain to them why I have to do this.
I’m hoping these words will do some justice to my feelings. So, to explain why I felt the need to write about and come out with my experiences the way that I did, and to do that, it’s important to give you guys a little bit of a backstory on my anxiety and depression trying to keep my identity hidden from an early age.
While I speak about my experiences growing up, it’s important to me that others acknowledge the struggles of an immigrant Pakistani-Muslim family. My mom left the country that she grew up in and was running a full household, with three crazy brown kids who watched too much WWE, while dealing with arthritis and subsequent chronic knee pain. My dad, who left his country as well as his own family, was supporting us all and doing a wonderful job. I remember the day he bought us our first Playstation. My brothers and I were jumping up and down from joy, full of happiness.
My parents have always made sure that I had what I needed and wanted growing up, and nothing will ever change that. When I was in middle school I remember begging them to get me South Pole jeans, which is a topic I don’t know if I’m ready to get into because my past fashion choices are more painful to get into than this. I still got those jeans though, and an iTouch, when those were still in production. My point is, we had a great childhood. The not so great part of it was that I was struggling on the inside.
I started realizing I was a little different than the other boys very early.
When all the other boys in 6th grade started to have feelings towards girls, I was left in the dust, just thinking that it would happen at one point…but as you can probably guess…it didn’t.
I remember just trying to repeatedly affirm to myself that I was into girls just to try to convince myself that I was “normal.” I went so far as to say that I had a crush on one (a girl) when the schoolyard questions about what girls I like that would inevitably be asked by brutally persistent American schoolchildren started. On the inside, though it was more of an “OMG, I don’t like her, I just want to be her friend. I really don’t want to kiss her. She’s got cute shoes. That’s so weird, and also is that girl Hannah using the damn pencil that she told me that she lost right in front of me? Can’t trust no one these days.”
[Read More: Unhinged: How I Came out to my Very Brown Parents]
At the time, I was a kid, so homework was more of a priority to me than anything else. I just figured things would work themselves out, because what the hell else am I supposed to think?
There was also this party at the end of the 6th grade that my parents didn’t let me go to, and apparently one of our friends kissed two different girls…on the lips! It was the scandal that led us into middle school, and at the time, the biggest thing in my life.
Up until this point, I think I was probably showing plenty of signs that I was just a little bit more “spicy” than kids my age to my parents.
To name a few:
- I opted to play with Barbie dolls instead of toy trucks as a child
- The only activity I liked as a 6 or 7-year-old was getting my makeup put on me by my older female relatives.
- My obsession with N’sync, and you know why.*
- The fact that I would read the lyric book of Destiny’s Child’s debut album “The Writings on the Wall” as a hobby
- I watched “Mohabbatein” way too many times, and cried without fail, each time.
- I forced my parents to buy me all of Britney Spears’s albums as soon as they came out. The queen of pop released her first single in 1998, so you already know I had the cassette tape with me on deck, both A and B sides on repeat, blasting at full volume in my blue Sony Walkman.*
*Please note that this is the second time I have referenced N’sync and Britney Spears in these pieces.
Shit got really real when puberty hit [me, baby, one more time]. I’m really hoping you sang that last part in brackets.
Around the age of 11 or 12 is when I realized that I wasn’t developing those “natural,” hormone-fueled feelings for the opposite sex that boys around me were developing. I was confused because I had been praying all this time for me to become normal, but it felt like I was just going in the opposite direction. After a few years of trying to change myself and convince myself to somehow like girls, I was convinced, at that age, that there was something wrong with me.
When I realized that I was different than the other boys, I wasn’t even sure what to call it because I truly didn’t know what being “gay”’ was, other than that it was wrong and whenever it was brought up on the news, my parents would say something bad about it. I didn’t even know what the word “fag” meant when it would be tossed around on the playground. Along with this realization, immediately came feelings of shame. The only thing I knew was whatever I was feeling was wrong.
All that I really knew about the subject of homosexuality was it was something that was being debated on the news, constantly. When it was on TV, all that really stuck with me would be the negative comments that people at home would make, and there I would be in the background, fully freaking out, knowing that they are talking about me.
We were taught to look to God for any hardships that we may come across, so that’s exactly what I did. I read what the Quran had to say about gay people. I read plenty of the interpretations from the Islamic scholars around the world about rulings on same-sex relations in Islam. I knew what was in store for me if I was to tell my parents anything, and it scared the living crap out of me.
As a kid, my brain didn’t really feel equipped enough to deal with the level of shame and guilt that I was feeling, so it pretty much consumed me. The only thing that I knew to do was to pray. So I prayed…a lot. I was just looking for any kind of sign or guidance because I sure as hell was on my own with this. I was young, so my prayers started off pretty innocent, just asking to make me normal so that I could be like my friends at school. But when the feelings didn’t go away, I started getting pretty worried. And that worry snowballed, very quickly, into unbearable anxiety.
As a young Pakistani kid, we are taught to deal with our emotions by
This probably rings true for most of you reading. Let’s admit it, brown families aren’t great about talking about the things that are going on in your brain. There were no breathing techniques to reduce anxiety, no one was going to take you to therapy, and that was it. Man up. Don’t show emotion. If you’re mad, hide it. If you’re sad, hide it. That’s all I knew to do.
*Trigger Warning: This next section contains some stuff about me hurting myself, so I guess what I’m trying to say is “viewer discretion is advised.”
On the rare occasion that no one was home, I would pray for hours and hours, vocally asking God to forgive me for what I was feeling, and for all the feelings that I couldn’t get rid of. That I was too weak to get rid of. I would look at myself in the mirror for hours trying to figure out what was wrong with me.
I started feeling disgusting in my own skin. My mind had started to convince myself that there must have been something physically wrong with me because of the way that I was feeling, to the point where I decided that I needed to do something to get it out.
I still have scars from the cuts I used to make on my arms and my thighs. I used to use this maroon swiss army knife that belonged to my dad. It had a serrated blade that I used to carve into myself. I remember being in our bathroom, just crying, and bleeding. Once I started to feel the physical pain, I remember just being able to breathe.
I thought that I was doing something to make myself feel better, and I thought somehow if I felt all this physical pain, it would make God forgive me for whatever it was that I did wrong to deserve the thoughts I was having. I realize now that I was just doing the only thing that my mind could think of for me to let some of the pain out. Of course, what I was really doing was, quite literally and figuratively, paving the way for my depression to convince myself that ending it was the only way that I was ever going to get any kind of relief.
Unfortunately, these thoughts stuck with me for a very long time, and nobody knew it. I couldn’t tell my parents how sad I was because then I would have to tell them why, and that was the very thought that consumed me with this intense fear.
The cutting continued pretty much throughout freshman year of high school…not a lot, but every now and then, when things would get to a point where they would boil up in my brain and I had no way to let it out. I had no one to talk to about the Harry Potter vs. Voldemort-style battle going on inside my brain, except I was both Harry Potter and Voldemort. I was my own worst enemy.
Now, imagine all of these feelings and try to understand that that’s how I’ve been feeling ever since then, and I’m so tired. I don’t want to feel like this anymore, and my parents don’t deserve to hope for me to become straight and get married. The pain of pretending and feeling like you are constantly lying to the two people that love you the most, the two people that raised you, and the two people that you look up to…is truly unbearable. As painful as it is for them and the rest of my family, I can’t lie anymore.
Our culture and our religion teach us that we must have the utmost respect for our elders. This is something that I have tried to do my whole life. I realized that by continuing to be dishonest about the things that I was feeling, I was committing the biggest sign of disrespect to my parents and my family by lying to them.
So I had to do the only thing that I knew to do, which is to write my feelings and be completely honest. I’m not sure what the future holds for me, and the backlash from my parents is probably going to be really intense. I can only do what feels the most right, morally, and spiritually, through all of the years of prayer, and through all of the years of begging to be “fixed.” If you aren’t honest with yourself about doing what feels like the truth, and if going against what feels like your truth causes you to literally want to rip into your own skin, then something ain’t quite right.
It’s obviously going to be very hard to deal with the inevitable reaction to this article from my parents. I’ve already had a very feisty conversation with my mom about it. She wants me to delete all of my social media and restart it without all the “gay stuff.” If I’m being honest, today I considered doing it for a good while. I thought about just withdrawing my post and deleting my Instagram and my Twitter.
But then, I told her how her asking me to delete all of this is just her negating my entire life and my experiences, and that is exactly how I’ve felt my entire life. Invisible, like there is nothing out there for me, and that I am perpetually meant to be alone in this world because the world had decided that I could not be Muslim and Gay.
I’m just trying to figure all of this stuff out, just like everyone else. If through all of these years of painful prayer and silent sadness I’ve somehow been guided by some force to share my story, despite my being scared as hell of my dad and his very intimidating mustache, then I think that it must mean something.
That, and YOLO.